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February 26, 2021: Quarterly Update

I am pleased to write to you with my quarterly update on all that is happening at Peabody. 

Spring Return

We are now a month into our hybrid spring semester. I am pleased to be able to report that things overall have gone well and without incident. It has been a joy to be on campus and be able to hear the sounds of practicing again, and to see familiar faces. We have over 60 residential students, and approximately 300 students on campus for some regular activity, while the remainder of our 673 fulltime matriculated students continue fully online. Safety protocols including regular COVID testing for faculty, staff, and students have helped to keep our community safe. While things remain far from “normal,” this has felt like a welcome step forward after being exclusively online since last March. We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel – albeit a longer tunnel than any of us would like. It is also important to note that based on academic results, our students generally had a successful fall semester even in an exclusively remote format. That is a testament to our faculty and students as well as the work of our staff who support the academic mission. 

Financial Outlook

Now more than halfway through the fiscal year, and with the close of the second quarter, we continue to be on track for a better financial performance than we had imagined when reprojecting our FY21 budget last summer to reflect fall discounts in tuition and the possibility of lower enrollment. Our enrollment has remained largely on track throughout the pandemic, which along with strong fundraising, expense controls, and a return to normal tuition rates in the spring, has paved the way for a significantly reduced deficit, on track with our five-year financial plan. That plan has focused on building new revenues through new programs, making investments in the academic mission, and reducing and eliminating longstanding structural deficits. 

Fundraising

Fundraising is of course a key component of financial sustainability and meeting our academic mission. Here too we have seen a better than anticipated result given the circumstances of the pandemic. As of the midpoint in the year, we had surpassed our total fundraising for the prior year of nearly $6.1 million, having raised now more than $7 million towards our $7.8 million FY21 goal. We have received our second endowed professorship matched by an anonymous donor as part of the JHU campaign, thanks to the wonderful generosity of Marc von May, a member of the Peabody Institute Advisory Board. The Preparatory has received a $1.3 million bequest gift from the estate of Ruth B. Converse to establish an endowment for string study scholarships, as well as the $1.25 million gift from JHU trustee William H. Miller III noted in my December newsletter. All these efforts are helping strengthen our academic mission and increase diversity, while ensuring sustainability in Peabody’s financial base.

Admissions for fall 2021

As has been the case for virtually everything over the last year, this year’s audition protocol was different from prior years. Instead of the normal bustling Audition Week on campus in mid-February, faculty took the week to review video recordings submitted in lieu of live auditions and interview applicants by Zoom. This departure from normal audition protocols notwithstanding, we had over 1,800 auditioning applicants from 42 countries auditioning for this fall, an increase of 3% over last year’s auditioning cohort, in part the result of changes in pre-screening protocols this year. Faculty have reported overall a very strong talent pool throughout the auditions. In addition, applications from underrepresented individuals continue to be strong, and we continue to make critical progress in diversifying our student cohort, which this academic year comprises nearly 18 percent underrepresented minorities, up from 14 percent last year.

Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Peabody

A continuing commitment for Peabody, this area of increasing focus is stewarded by our ADEI Steering Committee comprised of faculty, staff, and students, who continue to dedicate their efforts to engaging our community in this important work. A series of community conversations during the fall has led to a campus climate survey for our community to better assess how members of our community may experience bias. We look forward to mining the results of this survey and applying what we learn to continue to improve our campus culture to be the best and most equitable community we can be. We have been very clear in saying that we expect Peabody to be a leader in the effort to create more diversity across the performing arts world, and most especially in the field of classical music. 

The Next Normal

I am pleased to be able to report that this leadership was indeed on display leading up to and during the The Next Normal: Arts Innovation and Resilience in a Post-COVID World , a national symposium convened and hosted by Peabody that included discussions with thought leaders from the artistic, administrative, and funding communities across the classical music world, as well as a design thinking workshop used as a hands-on exercise to generate new thinking as we emerge from COVID-19. We had more than 1,300 participants from all walks of the performing arts in attendance. And what was immediately apparent to me was the hunger for, and exuberance at, being together virtually to talk about how the performing arts can emerge from the pandemic and – perhaps most important – how we leverage the experience to make fundamental change for the classical music world and more broadly the performing arts, as we grapple with long-term trends that challenge our field. 

While in truth, we could barely scratch the surface in just one day, certain things were deeply felt. The need for our field to diversify our administrations, performing rosters, board members, audiences, and more, is urgent and existential. For a long time we have approached this issue as peripheral. What came through at the symposium was that we must elevate this value to a position commensurate with excellence, and in fact understand that diversity and excellence are inextricably linked, in truth challenging the limitations of how we historically define excellence. 

The other headline, for me, was the need to build institutions that are more flexible and adaptable structurally and programmatically, responsive to communities, open to evolving ways of making art that is relevant to peoples’ lives and needs, and embraced by an increasingly diverse audience. Along with this, we must train creative artists with the kind of orientation that rewards and values the journey to who is being reached and how, as much as what is produced by the artist. And we all must approach our work, our institutions, and the people we impact, and those we would like to engage with, with a sense of humility. 

All in all, it was an exhilarating day, and a daunting one. I think it challenges all of us who are part of this field to be bolder, take more risks – and accept and learn from the mistakes that come with risk –while not losing sight of why we fell in love with what we do in the first place. I am proud that Peabody convened this important conversation, and am buoyed by seeing that the kinds of things that are so important to the future of the field – diversity, flexibility, and adaptability right alongside the pride we all have in our artistic outcomes – are the very things that we have been working on in a strategic and intentional way at Peabody in recent years. We are now more determined than ever to continue on that path. 

Summing Up

As always, there is a tremendous amount of activity happening across the Institute despite the challenging times we have been living through. I look forward to further updates towards the end of the academic year, and as always am so appreciative of the remarkable faculty, staff and students who make Peabody the extraordinary institution that it continues to be.